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Australia is bracing for a sharp rise in coronavirus-induced unemployment despite the rate dropping 0.2 per cent in February.

The nation’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 per cent in February but the figures may have been collected too early in the month to reflect the impact of the coronavirus.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash says Treasury is modelling multiple unemployment scenarios.

“We come at this situation from a good economic base. That is reflected in the employment figures for the month of February,” she told reporters in Perth on Thursday.

She encouraged people who will lose their jobs to find alternative employment as quickly as possible.

Senator Cash said Qantas, which is temporarily standing down 20,000 employees because of coronavirus, had worked closely with the government about their plans.

She said other employees should consider the option of being stood down.

“As an employee – if you face losing your job versus being able to be stood down, utilise your leave requirements, bring forward your long service leave if you’re able to,” the minister said.

“And maintain that connectivity with your employer, knowing that you will have a job at the end of this.”

A NAB market research note said unemployment should start to rise sharply from March.

“With how far it rises shaped by the economic cost of necessary health measures to mitigate the impact of the virus on the health system,” NAB’s economy watch note said.

“More recent anecdotes suggest most firms have implemented hiring freezes and job losses are being reported in the hospitality and tourism industries.”

Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor says the government’s next stimulus package should include help for casual employees, labour hire workers, gig workers and sole traders.

“It seems absolutely critical that the government gets this right because whilst as I say we welcome the unemployment figures today, there is no doubt we’re going to see many, many potential job losses over the course of the next weeks, months, and possibly beyond that,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr O’Connor has written to Senator Cash calling for a halt to physical meetings between jobseekers and Centrelink staff as well as job service providers, which must occur in order to receive some payments.